Last Updated 09 Jan 2023

Art in the Harlem Renaissance and the Social Changes During the Artistic Movement

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“The best of humanity's recorded history is a creative balance between horrors endured and victories achieved, and so it was during the Harlem Renaissance,” states Aberjhani. This quote embodies the movement of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was an artistic movement that has taken place in the 1920s. Art in the Harlem Renaissance leads to many social changes. The art of the Harlem Renaissance including visual art, literature, and music brought many people together; however, at the same time, it splits people apart because of the many controversies it created. During this time, African Americans came together as a group and were able to connect to Whites and other cultures through sharing the unique art they created in the Harlem Renaissance, including music, poetry, and painting. From Langston Hughes story, The Ways Of White Folks, Hughes writes about an African-American girl named Oceola; throughout the story, she expresses herself, showing how she felt about being black through her song and blues piano music. When Mrs. Ellsworth heard her piece, she was very surprised that it was not classical music because Oceola normally played Beethoven. However, when Oceola explained her piece to her, she was astounded. This shows that the music of the Harlem Renaissance could bring all types of people together. Through this new entertainment, the Harlem Renaissance also brought people together after a long workday because people would socialize at the clubs.

Even though the Harlem Renaissance brought many people together, there was also a new awareness about the racial problems of the African Americans expressed in the Harlem Renaissance art, which lead to African Americans and White people taking sides. Harlem attracted many diverse people through music performances including jazz and blues to the town. Because it attracted many different people, more people were witnesses of the African American problems. The music contributed to social changes during the Harlem Renaissance because African Americans showed how they felt about how they were treated and how they felt about the time period of the Harlem Renaissance. All of these performers included an African population who was mistreated in different ways before they were able to express themselves to a wider audience. This new draw to African American art allowed African American to get recognized by White, wealthy people. In that time, Carl Van Vechten was a White author that had written books in the Harlem Renaissance. Carl Van Vechten had known many White men who hosted parties and had respect and valued African Americans for their culture and wrote a book about it.

Conversely, due to its controversial title, Nigger Heaven, it was boycotted by many African Americans. This shows that Van Vechten did not fully understand the culture of the Harlem Renaissance and through just writing about it created controversy. It was not just the out of touch White male, Carl Van Vechten, who wrote a controversial book, but also there was also an African American male named Langston Hughes who created controversy in his writing upon the subject as well. During the Harlem Renaissance, a lot of art was created that were seen as controversial during this time. For example, the book called Fine Clothes To The Jew by Langston Hughes. In the time which Langston Hughes wrote a book called Fine Clothes To The Jew, many people to attack it as being racist just like Van Vechten’s work. Langston Hughes was an African American writer who was one of the most known writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Fine Clothes To The Jew was about how people used to sell their clothes to Jewish pawn shops to earn money. Fine Clothes To The Jew was not racist to African American people but many critics and Jewish people sought it as bad and it was perceived as racist by now. Now this book is seen as a very good book by many critics and many black scholars adopted this book.

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Langston Hughes also wrote many other books. One of the books that has stood out to many critics and people is the book called The Ways Of White Folks. This book is about how White people treated African- Americans, so although the Harlem Renaissance allowed for a larger audience of the African American artists, this new awareness also brought out many uncomfortable feelings about race dividing the people. Taking everything into account, art in the Harlem Renaissance leads to many social changes; some of which happened to be the reason that brought many people together. However, at the same time, it splits people apart because of the many controversies it brought to the surface. It is easy to look back at this time as a coming together of African Americans, but this also was a troubled time for them as well. Without this awareness of African American culture and struggle; however, change would not have been brought about. Through the Harlem Renaissance, art brought African-American people together, made their culture richer which led to White people and people of other cultures being more accepting African-Americans overall.

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